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Review of The Storyteller’s Tale by Omair Ahmad

I would like to include an occasional review my blog. I will try to concentrate on novels that bring something a bit unusual to the genre. I consider The Storyteller’s Tale by Omair Ahmad (published in 2009 by Penguin Books India so you might have to look a bit for it) to be a novel — or perhaps more correctly a novella — in that category.  Perhaps, as a storyteller myself, I simply identified with the storyteller of this story:

But when he had opened his mouth to speak, the words had come out all wrong, all of them, in every which way. They had tumbled out of him, heavy with longing, wrapped in a fire that is a stranger to the light laughter of the city. The unexpectedness of speaking his own truth had stunned him.

Almost twenty years had passed, and in the end he had exactly what he had when he first arrived: his stories, his freedom and the open road before him.

Part of what is unusual about this novel is its length. It is a slender 120 pages. Don’t be put off by the short length. It is a rich story of the storyteller’s escape after the forces of Ahmad Shah Abdali destroyed the wondrous city of Delhi. A day’s ride from the city at an isolated casbah, the Begum  invites him to stay and share a story. The tale he tells, that of Taka and Wara—brothers who are wolf and boy—explores the tragedy of unrecognized love.

To his astonishment, the Begum responds with a tale of her own, the tale of Aresh and Barab and a love that transcends death. For the first time, the storyteller has met his match–and his love, a love that is forbidden, not only because she is married and of a different class, but because her husband is one of those looting and destroying his beloved city. So to share this forbidden love, they duel with their stories that blend and reinforce something from each of the preceding tales, drawing on the elements of love, loss, betrayal and anguish in their lives and our own.

I cried twice (a rarity that I cry at all in a novel of any length) reading this short novel as, with his exquisite prose and imagery, the author explores the meaning of love, of life, and of storytelling. Indeed, who of us as a storyteller has not had our words come out wrong “in every which way”. If mine are not always wrapped in fire when they tumble onto the page, perhaps it is that on that day, in that hour, I was not speaking my own truth. And in the end, we storytellers have only that: our stories, our freedom and the open road to share them with someone who will listen.

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